Have you got floppy deck railings? How to strengthen them.

Winter is over and spring is really setting in. So, I began pondering the barbecues on our decks I was struck by a problem that many of us have with our railings. They are weak!

Building code says that a deck rail should be able to hold 500 pounds of lateral force without collapsing- lateral force means sideways force and frankly in most cases this is laughable. Unless your deck is steel or the deck legs continue all the way up to be part of the deck railing then the rails cannot possibly handle that kind of weight. But surely there is something that could greatly strengthen the deck railings…but what?

Years ago, my sister in law and her husband were true earth hippies and wanted to build a sure enough cool hippy house. Those of you who are now old but once had long hair and beards remember when geodesic domes were the rage- ugly but popular. Well, a dome was not quite amazing enough for these folks so they set out to build a yurt. Yep, there are houses called yurts and the original versions of these are Mongolian log houses with skins for roofs. They looked kind of like a truncated ice cream cone or corn crib with a pointed cone-shaped roof. Well,  my in-laws set out to build one of these critters.

First, they constructed a large tongue and groove floor system in a circular shape about 25 feet in diameter. Then they went and cut logs in their own woods and began to erect them vertically around the edges of the round floor system. Yes, the logs were vertical, and they were designed to lean outwards to get that ice cream cone effect. So, the problem that this presented was what kept these leaning logs from simply falling away? They solved this problem by putting an eyebolt at the top outer edge of each of these 14-foot logs and then threaded a steel cable through the eyes on the logs all the way around the top of the log walls. Once the logs were secured at the floor then the weight of the outward leaning walls was being held by the steel cable evenly all the way around the structure. Then they added the cone-shaped roof which was also made of logs and which also was putting outward weight on the lower walls. Amazingly the more outward weight against that threaded steel cable the stronger the entire structure became. If the cable broke, then the whole thing would fall apart like a fan! But the cable was stainless steel and did not break- Awesome! One of the coolest houses I have ever seen, it is still sitting in Twiggs County. But what about our deck railings.

I need some help from my engineer readers about this. But I think the same principle would work in strengthening our deck railings. First, I would install eye bolts to the wall of my house where the deck rails connect with the house. Then I would install more eye bolts on the vertical railing supports and finally thread my steel cable through the bolts all the way to the other wall. Once I tightened the cable then the railing should be hugely strengthened so if a big boy fell over against the railing then all of the other supports and the house itself will work together to hold that deck together. Voila!

There are problems in the theory if you had an irregular shaped deck or had steps (which we don’t) so you might have to install strong points in more places to anchor the cable…but I think I am onto something!

If anyone has tried this then please let me know since my deck rail is a tad wimpy and my deck is 15 feet high. You don’t want to fall off. No!

Ned Dominick has been inspecting houses in Macon, Warner Robins and all of Middle Georgia sine 1978. He and his qualified inspectors have examined over 28,000 local homes. For more go to www.housetal.net or call him at 478-738-0893.

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